CHARLESTON, S.C.: Grief gripped this southern city Thursday as the weight of the deadly mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church set in.
In front of the towering white pillar of the oldest AME church in the South, mourners stood in the hot afternoon sun hugging and crying about the deadly attack Wednesday night that claimed nine lives, including the church pastor’s. A growing memorial to victims lined the entrance of the church as yellow police tape hung as a stark reminder of the tragedy.
On Thursday, police captured suspect Dylann Storm Roof, 21. Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said Roof was “cooperative” when police in Shelby, N.C., acting on a tip, took him into custody 245 miles northwest of Charleston. Mullen said Roof was alone and a gun was found in the car.
Both people who knew the victims and those who did not expressed a deep sense of sorrow and a longing to understand how this city and the nation will move forward.
Dearrick DeSaussure of Charleston walked past the church almost everyday day as he went to a nearby library. Thursday, he stood shaking his head as he described the shooting as an attack on all black people and the very fabric of America. De-Saussure, who is black, attends a Baptist church just blocks from where the shooting happened and took it very personally.
“This could have been rage against any church,” De-Saussure, 58, a middle-school teacher, said solemnly. “It’s like he took a shot at me and missed. But no matter how you look at it, I’m still a target.”
He said blacks must not follow in the shooter’s footsteps and be angry. Instead, he stressed that people should not retaliate and should avoid the unrest that followed protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.
Nearby, Marymargaret Givens, 60, a housekeeper, echoed those sentiments and stressed that people must focus on the kind of forgiveness she believes God gives.
“Those were godly people,” she said. “They were here praying. They welcomed him into the sanctuary. They showed him love and kindness. So we should set out to deal with this in peace and with love.”
Meanwhile, others pointed out that the shooting is being investigated as a hate crime and that race played a significant role in this latest tragedy.
Bakari Sellers, 30, knew the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a politician and pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who died Wednesday night. He called the attack “domestic terrorism” and said unlike past tragedies people in the deep South know racist violence intimately.
“We are 20 miles away from where Walter Scott was hunted like a deer,” he said. “This isn’t new to us. This isn’t some isolated incident.”
Sellers served as a South Carolina state representative for several years and is currently running for lieutenant governor.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford also stopped by Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Thursday, telling USA TODAY he will be praying for the community and for the victims’ families. “I don’t understand the human calculus that goes into doing something so sinister,” he said. “This person was clearly evil.”
Sanford added that people should be cautious about making broad judgments after one man’s horrendous decision. But he said people can make small decisions and acts that will improve race relations in America.
“One bad person doesn’t make the community,” Sanford said. “There is a communal fabric down here that we work on, white and black alike. I hope that that and faith get us through the horrible tragedy of last night.”
Stephen Coluccio, 23, a network engineer at Boeing, said as a white man he wants to support the black community but isn’t sure exactly what to do. Thursday, he stopped by Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to place flowers outside its entrance. He says he hopes people don’t allow incidents like this to divide people of different races and ethnicities.
“This is an attack on human society as a whole,” Coluccio of Charleston said. “I don’t think this should be left up to the black community to deal with… Hatred is put in people’s hearts. You’re not born with it.”